Tinkering with stormwater ordinance sets off Carnes

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By Greg Summers

It didn’t take Lancaster County Councilman Brian Carnes long Monday night to vent his frustration over the proposed stormwater ordinance that would add $75 to the tax bills of Panhandle homeowners.
Before the third and final reading on the ordinance, council members were presented a number of changes to the proposal, but had no time to study the 30-page document.
An indignant Carnes immediately made a motion to postpone the final reading of the controversial ordinance until Sept. 11. The public hearing was held as scheduled Monday.
“It’s very unfair to us as councilmen and women and the general public to walk in here and have a 30-page document that we have no time to read,” said Carnes, before loudly slamming the ordinance on the desk in front of him.
Carnes and fellow Councilman Terry Graham, who seconded the postponement motion, represent Panhandle residents who will be impacted by the ordinance. The postponement passed 4-3.
“We have not had a chance to read through it and look at the numbers,” Carnes said. “We could’ve at least received an email earlier today so we could’ve had a chance to review it.”
The S.C. Department of Heath and Environmental Control has mandated that the county target erosion, sediment and construction-site runoff that is getting into Panhandle streams and creeks.
Council has been crafting the ordinance to address those issues, which establishes a new county department, for about two years.
But Monday’s scheduled third reading was pushed back because eight changes were made to the document following the Aug. 14 second reading.
Among the changes, said County Attorney John Weaver, is the inclusion of a state-required “more accurate letter” from DHEC, saying what the county is required to do.
That letter designates the area from S.C. 5 north to the county line as within “the impaired waters” that now fall within the Charlotte urban area. Indian Land is now considered to be in Charlotte’s urban area, with more than 1,000 residents per square mile.
The new letter, in turn, resulted in map modifications that reflect a revised coverage area.
Other changes include recalculations that lower the proposed budget from $1.57 million to $1.33 million, based on how much gets collected. Weaver noted that no changes were made in the proposed $75 fee amount.
Weaver said minor grammatical errors were also corrected before the third reading to make the ordinance as accurate as possible.
He said the need to make the changes arose during last week’s meeting by the council’s administration committee.
“There has been much discussion and debate… and it was   only until this morning (Monday) that staff was able to compile all the questions and answers imposed by council and numbers revised,” Weaver said, explaining changes in great detail.
However, that wasn’t good enough for Carnes, who was able to get votes to postpone from Graham, as well as Jack Estridge and Larry Honey-cutt.   
“It’s ridiculous to get a budget on third reading for something like this,” Graham said. “I sat in that admin committee meeting and they still didn’t have a budget…. I have questions and I don’t think they can be answered in this meeting.”
Council members Charlene McGriff and Billy Mosteller disagreed with Graham about the new department’s budget, saying they had seen it.

Late tax bills
Postponing the vote means Lancaster County’s 2017-18 tax bills won’t be mailed the first week of October as they normally are.
And right now, no one is sure when they will be mailed out.
As written, the ordinance could add a fee of up to $75 to the tax bills of homeowners in the north end of the county that will be used to start a new county department that addresses water-quality issues there. The fee that commercial property owners will pay will vary and be based on size.
The exact fee amount has not been set. But it can’t be added to tax bills until the ordinance’s third reading passes. That, in turn, will determine when county property tax bills get mailed.
“That’s correct. We have met about it and the exact date they will be mailed out hasn’t been determined,” said Lancaster County Auditor Susan Hunter Wallace.
“I can tell you that tax bills are still due Jan. 15, 2018. That tax due date is established by the state,” she said.

Follow reporter Greg Summers on Twitter @GregSummersTLN or contact him at (803) 283-1156.